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It's Super Easy To Set Up A Movie Projector Outside — Here's How

One of the best parts of summer is cooling off in a dark, air-conditioned movie theatre on a scorching hot day. While you can't always visit the movie theatre, you can replicate the experience in your own backyard. But how do you set up a movie projector outside? It's actually easy, and fairly cost-effective.

To create a backyard movie theatre, you’ll need a projector, speakers, a laptop (or a DVD player if you still have one), a white screen (which you can DIY in a pinch), some comfy seating, bug spray, and of course, plenty of popcorn and snacks. An outdoor movie night is a fun way to get the whole family to do something new (dare I say… novel), and, if you have enough space and are comfortable with the idea, it’s an activity that you can do with another family from a safe social distance. Kiddos will love getting to stay up a bit later (outdoor movies work best if it's really dark out) plus everyone will be cozy and contained.

Read on for everything you'll need to set up a movie night in your backyard. Now all you need is for your family to agree on a movie.

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Find The Right Spot

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You'll need a spot in your backyard where you can comfortably spread out and sit far enough away from the screen (otherwise it'll be like sitting in the front row at the theatre). Big blankets and pillows on the grass work well, as do pool and beach chairs. You may be tempted to add some ambience with twinkle lights or lanterns, but the movie will look most crisp on the screen if it's super dark. That said, you might want to bring a flashlight to help guide you back inside. Before you set up, make sure that a power outlet can reach the projector using an extension cord. If you don't have an outdoor outlet, there is typically one in the garage of most houses, or you could use an extra-long extension cord to reach an outlet inside the house.


Pick A Projector

There are so many projectors to choose from at a range of price points (and you can even make a DIY projector using a shoebox and a smartphone, per TechBuilder). Some, like this tiny-but-mighty one from PIQO, come with Netflix and YouTube built in, but most projectors will be able to sync with your laptop as long as your WiFi signal is strong enough outside (the Cinemood, above, comes with 120 hours of kid-friendly videos and books included). When picking a projector, pay attention to its lumen output, which will dictate how much light it emits. If you have young kiddos and need to start the movie before dusk, it's best to get a projector with 3000 lumens or more, per The Seattle Times. That way you'll still be able to clearly see the picture even if it isn't super dark out.

You may also want to consider the projector's throw ratio which dictates how big the movie will be from a certain distance away. Shorter throws mean less space between projector and screen, and can reduce glare so the images look bright and crisp. "The most difficult decision I've had is whether or not to get a shorter throw ratio for the projector," Brian Corgan, who set up a backyard theatre at his home in Naperville, Illinois tells Romper. "I opted against [it], but keep second guessing that decision. While I love the projector, I wonder if a shorter throw ratio with the high lumen would allow me to start movies at an earlier time vs. having to wait well into dusk."


Make Sure Your Speakers Get Loud Enough

You don't need professional audio or surround sound speakers, but little ones are less likely to lose interest if they can clearly hear the movie. "Wired connections offer superior sound quality and stability," according to Crutchfield, but you can definitely get away with using a Bluetooth speaker, especially if you don't have a big group. "We set [the projector] up with a nice wireless speaker and it did the job," Abigail Fuqua, who set up a projector on her New York City balcony, tells Romper.

"My setup includes the screen, projector, an HDMI phone cord, and a karaoke speaker," Corgan tells Romper. I stream movies (Netflix, Disney +, Comcast etc.) through my phone right into the projector. I then Bluetooth the audio of my phone to the speaker. It's so easy and seamless. The entire setup is 15 minutes."


Make Or Buy A Screen

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Now for arguably the most important part of an outdoor movie night: the projector screen. You can DIY a screen using a white bed sheet, but this can be frustrating because it may ripple or blow with the wind, skewing the movie picture. If you do use a bed sheet, it's helpful to put a black sheet behind the white one so the picture looks more crisp.

There are tons of affordable projector screens on Amazon and elsewhere, so it might make sense to opt for a real screen. The one thing she would have done differently, Fuqua says, is to buy a projector screen with a frame. The screens without frames need to be tied taut, which can be a hassle. There are also huge, inflatable screens available that really mimic the theatre experience.

"After researching, I decided it was perfectly ridiculous for me to get the gigantic 20-foot screen for my yard. My neighbor called me the Clark Griswold of theater setups — I'll take that as a compliment," Corgan tells Romper.

Whether your set-up is giant or low-key, it's always smart to set up when it's still light out so when it gets dark, all you need to do is plop down with a bowl of popcorn.